Coincidence, I swear: I arrived last night at the University of Maryland to attend a Knight Foundation seminar titled “Longevity: America Ages.” And as I settled into my colossal bed at the Marriott, my New Yorker magazine opened to an article about “the coming boomer longevity competition.” It’s by Michael Kinsley, it’s called “Mine is Longer Than Yours” (as in “My Life”), and the opening is hilarious. The bumper sticker shouldn’t be “He Who Dies With the Most Toys Wins,” Kinsley declares, but “He Who Dies Last Wins,” because that’s what really matters now. I’ll be curious to see how the seminar addresses that ferocious pursuit:
The New Yorker was prescient last week too, with Eric Alterman’s article
on “the life and death of the American newspaper” in the face of the blogosphere. I’m one of 25 journalists attending the seminar, most of whom work for print newspapers across the country like the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the Cape Cod Times, and there’s a pervasive anxiety about layoffs and changing times. My nametag says “Freelance Journalist,” which seems to inspire a little envy, and indeed I can’t get fired. Then again, my fellow Knight Fellows are pulling down a paycheck this week.
The first session consisted of demographer William Frey going through the findings of a 2007 Brookings Institute report called The New Geography of Boomer and Senior Demographic Shifts. This involved a great many PowerPoint charts and graphs, which would have been more compelling if they hadn’t already been made available as handouts. But the questions were sharp and it was an excellent counterpoint to last night’s speaker: journalist and author Dudley Clendinen, reading from his soon-to-be-published A Place Called Canterbury: Tales of the New Old Age in America. An account of time spent in his mother’s high-rise retirement home in Tampa, Florida, it’s a quirky, moving, deeply personal look at the human side of aging. You can get a taste of it here.